This intriguing rail journey through China ends in one of the world’s most fascinating places: Lhasa, the mystical capital city of Tibet.
In the shadow of the Himalayas and known as the ‘Roof of the World’ due to its breathtaking average height of 13,200ft (4,060m) above sea level, Tibet is home to more Himalayan peaks than anywhere else in the world. And Lhasa is home to an amazing collection of UNESCO palaces and temples.
Tibet has historically been virtually inaccessible by land. That changed with the opening of the Golmud to Lhasa railway in 2006. More than 600 miles (965kms) of the line is at an altitude of over 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) and much of it runs over permafrost.
With the summit, the Tangula Pass, at 16,640ft (5,072m) it is also the world’s highest railway. To travel on this line is a true pioneering adventure, an experience as unique as the destination itself.
The Shangri-La Express, the best passenger rail experience in China, has been newly outfitted in 2017 with en-suite cabins. Read more about the Shangri-La Express here.
Day 1: Urumqi, China
On arrival in Urumqi, you will be met and transferred to the Sheraton Urumqi hotel. This evening, meet your fellow travelers at a welcome dinner.
Day 2: Urumqi
Today, visit the renowned Xinjiang Regional Museum in Urumqi, famous for having artifacts and mummies of Caucasians who lived in this region between 1,500 and 4,000 years ago. There is also a fine collection of silk articles and other artifacts from various eras, as well as written materials in different languages.
Until two decades ago, this culture was hardly known to historians and archaeologists, and their history and origins remain much of a mystery.
Day 3: Kashgar, China
Today, visit the Old City of Kashgar, with a history dating back more than 2,000 years. Uygur people have lived here for generations. Kashgar Old City was a renowned hub of activity at the crossroads of the Southern and Middle Silk Roads. Today, the Old City is still a cradle of culture. Tonight, we stay for one night at the five-star Radisson Blu Hotel Kashgar.
Day 4: Kashgar, China
Today’s special tour arrangements begin at the Kashgar Sunday Bazaar. Its very remoteness is what makes the market so extraordinary, partly due to the exoticism of the produce for sale, and partly because it is the only real place to shop in an area the size of western Europe.
The population of Kashgar reputedly swells by 100,000 every Sunday for this market, but due to the isolated location of the city, only a small fraction of these visitors are foreigners and therefore offers a very unique experience on your journey.
Only a small fraction of these visitors are foreigners, and therefore the market offers very much a unique experience on our journey.
Day 5: Turpan, China
The Flaming Mountains create a magnificent backdrop for the city of Turpan. First, we visit Jiaohe, one of the best preserved ancient cities in China. The ruins of the buildings are divided into temples, civilian dwellings and government offices. Workshops and residential houses in the streets are also still visible.
In the afternoon, take a fascinating tour to the world-famous ancient underground irrigation system at Karez that has successfully fed the surrounding orchards and vineyards for centuries. The system is considered one of the three great projects to survive from Imperial China, with the other two being the Great Wall and the Grand Canal.
Next, visit a Uygur family, where you will enjoy a traditional Uygur ethnic dance and local snacks.
Day 6: Dunhuang, China
This morning, explore the vast natural beauty of the Sand Dunes by camel, where you will discover Crescent Lake, hidden amidst the towering sand dunes. It has sustained life in this region for millennia.
In the small oasis city of Dunhuang, we will visit the Magao Thousand Buddha Cave Complex. This impressive site contains almost 500 grottoes, carved between 700 and 1,700 years ago. Inside we will see an amazing collection of beautiful sculptures and murals depicting the evolution of Buddhist religious art over 1,000 years.
Day 7: Jiayuguan, China
Today in Jiayugaun, visit the first pass at the west end of the Great Wall of China, the Jiayuguan Pass. Along with Shanhaiguan, it is one of the largest and most intact passes of the Great Wall. It was an important military fortress and also a vital traffic fort along the Silk Road, the world’s oldest trading route, connecting China with Central Asia and Europe.
As you stand in the endless desert with rolling mountains as a backdrop, this isolated pass will take you back to the desolation and loneliness of frontier life in ancient times.
After lunch, visit the Overhanging Great Wall, which was constructed in the year of 1539 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The wall was built in order to support the already existing Jiayuguan Fort which held a key role in the defenses of the area around Jiayuguan.
Parts of the wall are steep. Those who make it to the top will enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the endless Gobi Desert, sparsely sprinkled with a few oases, and snow-capped mountains in the far distance.
Day 8: Xining, China
Today, explore Xining, home to an incredible 37 nationalities. Located on the eastern edge of Qinghai Province, Xining’s history can be traced back 2,100 years to antiquity.
This morning, first visit the Buddhist Kumbum (Ta’er) Monastery. Kumbum was founded in 1583 in a narrow valley close to the village of Lusar in the Tibetan cultural region of Amdo. In the afternoon, visit the Shuijingxiang Market. At the entrance of two intersecting alleys, each more than 360 feet (1,100 meters) long, are more than 3,000 fixed stalls.
The market has everything from food and drink to articles for daily use. You can not only find lotus roots and wild rice stems, which are products of Southern China, but also seafood from the coast.
Day 9: Qinghai-Tibet Railway: China-Tibet
Rise early this morning, and board the high-altitude train at Golmud (you will have reserved seats) that will take you on an unforgettable 14-hour daylight journey along the 710-mile (1,142km) ‘Roof of the World’ line to Lhasa, cresting the 16,640-foot (5,072m) Tangula Pass.
This is the world’s highest railway pass, reaching an unbelievable 3 miles (5km) above sea level. Due to the high altitude, supplementary oxygen is pumped in through the ventilation system. Personal oxygen masks are available if required.
Upon arrival in Lhasa, you will be met and transferred to the centrally-located, luxurious five-star St. Regis Lhasa Resort for a three-night stay. Located in the eastern part of Lhasa, the St. Regis is this unique city’s most coveted address, conveniently located in the famed Barkhor area.
The St. Regis faces the Potala Palace, a UNESCO site, and once the chief residence of the Dalai Lama. Jokhang Temple, another iconic structure, and Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama’s former Summer Palace, are also close by.
Day 10: Lhasa, Tibet
Lhasa is located in a small basin surrounded by mountains. It literally means “place of the gods.” At an altitude of around 11,975 ft (3,650m), it is one of the highest cities in the world. It is also the traditional seat of the Dalai Lama and the holiest center of Tibetan Buddhism, with over a thousand years of cultural and spiritual history.
Today, visit Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama’s Summer Palace, built in the 1740s as a retreat from which to escape the heat of the summer. There will also be free time to wander through Lhasa and soak up the atmosphere of this picturesque city.
Day 11: Lhasa, Tibet
On our second full day here, we’ll visit the 13th-century Jokhang Temple, Tibet’s holiest shrine and the spiritual home for almost all Tibetans. Next, explore the adjacent Barkhor market, the oldest market in the capital and a well-trodden route for the many pilgrims who make their way to the temple. A local lunch is accompanied by traditional folk music.
This afternoon, visit the 17th-century Potala Palace, former seat of the Tibetan Government, and the Dalai Lama’s winter residence until he fled to India in 1959. It contains thousands of rooms and dominates the city skyline. Perched upon Marpo Ri hill, 425 feet (130 m) above the Lhasa valley, the Potala Palace is the greatest monumental structure in Tibet and one of the architectural wonders of the world.
Tonight, say goodbye to your new friends at a farewell dinner.
Day 12: Lhasa departure
Enjoy breakfast in the hotel before being transferred to the airport for your departure.
2020 Dates:September 26-October 7
2021 Dates:April 5-16
Prices are per person.
A Chinese visa and a special permit for travel into the Tibet Autonomous Region are both required for this journey (for U.S. citizens). We will obtain the Tibet permit on your behalf.
Travelers should be aware that journey involves high altitudes. Oxygen is available on the Golmud-Lhasa line but some travelers may still experience symptoms of altitude sickness.
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